My relationship with alcohol has soured lately. As soon as I entered my late 20s, the after-effects of benders have extended to overstay their welcome, sometimes into days, instead of hours. And it no longer ends at feeling fazed. Bloatedness, dehydration and nauseousness have been added to the mix too, ending up in ruining all the plans I may have had for the day. 

Those two extra drinks began coming with a toll so enormous, that I decided to stay away from alcohol altogether. And that’s when seltzers started coming in handy. The low-calorie alcoholic beverage, unlike others of its kind, doesn’t taste like floor cleaner and manages to generate a pretty good buzz. Given that it’s a relatively healthier choice than beer, one could understand why the tipple is in trend. 

But what is a seltzer?

Before we proceed, let’s first understand what this is. Seltzer is often considered simply as sparkling water or a mixer. Which it is. Only that it has an older cousin, aka hard seltzer. As the suffix suggests, this variant comes with the addition of alcohol, rendering the otherwise carbonated water well, hard. With demand for it on the rise in the alco-bev industry, many brands have also started tinkering with different flavours. This could vary from watermelon to kiwi. But the one I recently got my hands on, from IST — a Pune-based hard seltzer brand — them Lemon and Grapefruit flavours. 

How is it made?

Just like whisky, beer and wine (a process which we covered briefly), the secret to a good seltzer lies in how well it is fermented. The process involves yeast interacting with sugar, which leads to the formation of alcohol. In winemaking, for instance, the sugar comes from harvested grapes. In seltzers, however, cane sugar is used. Most seltzers, both abroad and here in India, consist of 4 to 6 per cent alcohol. However, many distillers brew batches that have an ABV (alcohol by volume) of up to 10 per cent and then dilute it with water to achieve the desired potency. 

How is it different from beer?

While the two can be confused, compared to beer — which uses grains and additives in the brewing process to create different flavours and colours — hard seltzers make use of fruit and flavouring to produce a low-calorie drink. Some variants on the market are in fact, even gluten-free. 

Why is Gen-Z loving it?

Seltzers seem to be a hit with millennials and the Gen-Z and while a major reason for it has to do with them being low on calories, the other factor that could be working in its favour is that it’s gender-neutral. Unlike, say, beers that have been marketed for far too long as the “working man’s drink.” This makes seltzer a tad more approachable. 

Writer Amy McCarthy perfectly encapsulates the shift in culture while talking about White Claw, a known hard seltzer brand in the US. In her article on the matter for Eater, she says, “White Claw’s marketing is selling its fans a lifestyle, one that both men and women want to be a part of. It’s what you drink when you’re chilling at the beach, partying at music festivals, and of course, earning enough money to live your best carefree life.”

Further adding, “It’s an upscale, aspirational brand, one that doesn’t carry the same trashy, low-budget connotations as other malt liquor beverages like wine coolers and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, with sleek, gender-neutral branding and an implied promise that it’s a little bit more virtuous than those other drinks.”

What about seltzers In India? 

Much like gin, which exploded a few years back, seltzers are generating a lot of interest, too. Seltzer brands in the market are growing by the minute and it includes everyone from a small Pune-based startup like IST to Smirnoff, which is set to enter the game. Some of the other known brands in the space are Speakeasy, Bro Seltzer, Four Loko and Wild Drum. 

But why are we drinking seltzer now? 

Because an expert is better positioned to weigh in on this, we reached out to Krupa and Kunal Shah of IST. Commenting on what made them enter the seltzer segment, Kunal says, “Krupa and I enjoyed drinking and going out, but at the same time, we’re conscious about what we put in our bodies. We realised that there was a need for a beverage that could be consumed any time during the day, without worrying about the after-effects like bloating or calorie count. We were looking for something which would fit all of those things, without compromising on the taste. Seltzer, as a product covers all of those bases”

Which explains the sudden interest in this beverage that has technically been around for a long time. I mean, you get the same amount of alcohol as a pint of beer, but with a lower calorie count (which is around 100kcal per serving). And if you ask us, that’s a major win-win. 

(Image credits: IST, Budweiser, White Claw, Four Loko)